Barrow spine surgeon gets MLB player back in the game


by Jay Crandall

Posted on February 26, 2014 at 3:28 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 28 at 5:07 AM

PHOENIX -- Cleveland Indians first baseman David Cooper suffered a devastating injury two years ago, but a top surgeon from the Valley has him back on the field for spring training.

It was show and tell day at the Indians' training camp Tuesday as Cooper and his surgeon, Dr. Curtis Dickman, talked about an injury that nearly ended his career.

Last year, Cooper suffered a herniated disc during a slide.

"The herniated disc was causing him so much pain that he couldn't exercise and he could not play professional baseball," Dickman said.

"When I first dove into the bag and had the injury, I couldn't twist, was having trouble breathing, I just had absolutely no mobility," Cooper said.

Dickman, a neurosurgeon at the Barrow Neurological Institute, said the injury and the usual open chest surgery to repair it both could have meant Cooper's pro career was over and possibly left him paralyzed.

"David would have been faced, had he had the open surgery, with being unlikely to ever return to playing professional baseball because of the problems associated with having this massive destructive kind of open surgery," Dickman said.

Instead, Dickman used a procedure he pioneered, going in endoscopically to remove the herniated disk then fusing part of rib and a metal plate in place to secure the spine and Cooper's career.

"His athletic capabilities excel those of where he was prior to having this injury to start with," Dickman said.

"I am at the point now where if I didn't see those scars and see the X-rays, I wouldn't even know I had surgery," Cooper said.

Dickman pioneered the technique used to treat Cooper. He even created the tools he needed to perform the surgery.